Changes proposed to how the OU organises its student support in Europe have made for some controversial headlines in the Times Higher and has led some to ask about the roots of The Open University’s operations there.
Some information about the University’s overseas activities are available on The History of the OU website.
The OU has been teaching within the UK since 1971 and in other parts of Europe since 1972. The arrangements for teaching students outside the UK have undergone several changes in that time.
Between 1972 and 1992, the University served three broad categories of student studying within the wider Europe: those starting their studies in the UK, those admitted under ‘special schemes’ in the Benelux countries and in the Republic of Ireland; and Services personnel and their families admitted under special schemes in Germany and Cyprus. In 1992 when the European Single Market was introduced, the University extended direct entry to any person domiciled in the EU and in other parts of western Europe.
The first organised move into western Europe was in 1982. During 1981 a Working Group established by the Student Affairs and Awards Board on study provision for those resident overseas issued its report. The report contained proposals, that were accepted by Senate, on the means by which the University’s provision for those resident outside the UK might be rationalised and extended.
The first step in the scheme would be the presentation of a small core of courses, not including HEKs or summer schools, drawn from the associate student programme. As the scheme developed, gradually more courses could be added to this initial core and the scheme extended geographically. Ultimately, the courses might be offered to foreign nationals.
Having approved the general arrangements, Senate gave its consent to a specific proposal to offer OU courses to UK nationals resident in Brussels. Five courses were offered in 1982. Applicants had to apply through the British Council in Brussels which would place a block booking with the University and arrange for the subsequent distribution of course materials to students. For all other purposes, students would be attached to an OU region and would have their tutors and counsellors within that Region.
In the event, 45 students registered. After consultation it was decided that all students in the scheme should be attached to the University’s Northern Region: students were therefore allocated to course tutors in that region, and the region was also able to recruit and appoint two associate student counsellors in Brussels. The course tutors did not solely act as ‘correspondence’ tutors: they were able to visit Brussels on two occasions to hold day schools. In 1983 the scheme was expanded to ten courses and made available to non-British nationals in Belgium.